Lifelong learners, look no further. Opportunities for unending education in are expanding in Santa Barbara, with the new Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) classes being offered through Cal State Channel Islands. The national program, which provides classes for students aged 55 and over, will begin teaching in Santa Barbara this January. OLLI says its classes pack all the punch of a university experience without the pressure of grades or exams—a dealmaker for those who want that “learning for learning’s sake” experience.

“A lot of baby boomers are retiring,” noted Brianna Knightly, administrative assistant for the program. Through OLLI, she said, they can take classes in everything from beginning biology to ‘60s folk music, most of them taught by university professors from California’s university systems.

CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) has provided OLLI classes on campus and around Ventura, Simi Valley, Oxnard, and Thousand Oaks for the past seven years, but this spring will be the first time they are committing to expansion into Santa Barbara. The first eight-week session will make available two classes locally: “Out of Africa: The Evolution of Homo Sapiens and the Peopling of Earth” and “Therapeutic Music to Harmonize the Human Psyche.” Held at the Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara and the Women’s Club of Carpinteria, classes are $85 each.

Although other programs, like Santa Barbara City College’s Adult Ed, do offer classes geared to senior students, OLLI courses tend more toward the sheerly academic, according to Operations Director Nick Fuentes. Also, unlike Adult Ed, OLLI offers few classes geared toward developing an occupation.

OLLI was founded a decade ago by the Bernard Osher Foundation, which seeks to “improve quality of life through higher education and the arts.” The program expanded in the early 2000s to the UC and CSU systems. It is hoping to gain more followers through word-of-mouth, and increase course offerings in the future. CSUCI reached the 500-member mark with OLLI in 2008—a big achievement, even though the program has “hundreds of thousands” of members in more than 100 institutes. In addition to OLLI, Cal State Channel Islands recently finalized a program for students to receive a bachelor of science degree on the Santa Barbara City College campus.

OLLI and SBCC Adult Ed are just two among several opportunities for adult education in Santa Barbara. Another is UCSB Extension, which offers a variety of evening and weekend classes. OLLI has taken a stance of noncompetition with other programs in our area, instead seeking to diversify and improve academic offerings for senior citizens.

Its eyes on the future, OLLI has a Twitter account and a Facebook page (with 73 fans). The members of OLLI’s current target demographic may or may not be Facebookers or tuned in to the Twitterverse, but these baby boomers have certainly continued to spread the word about OLLI’s unique offerings the old-fashioned way. Because, unlike many of today’s younger students, said Fuentes, these seniors “want to keep learning. They want to continue to be mentally stimulated.”


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